Armenian writing – did it exist in pre-Mashtots times? Did the Armenian people have writing and literature, or they were deprived of this greatest gift of civilization? This is a very controversial question and there are different opinions about it. Find some information on Armenian writing & literature as well as some authors here.
During Artashesian period, Hellenistic Armenia created such a powerful state that it is difficult to imagine it not having its own writing, at least with other system of symbols and signs.
However, the role of Mesrop Mashtots in the creation of Armenian letters is so magnificent that the fact of having writing before, does not cast a shadow on the huge work he has done.
Armenian Writing: Creation of the Armenian Alphabet
Besides serving for the reason to preach Christianity, the creation of Armenian writing was essential for recording the masterpieces of centuries-old folklore, national novels, songs and other works.
Being well aware that the implementation of this work requires the approval and help of the Catholicos (the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church) and the king, Mesrop Mashtots returns to Vagharshapat from Goghtan.
Here, with the help of Vramshapouh king, they bring the so called Danielyan Armenian writings and soon enough realize that these writings do not correspond to the Armenian phonetic system.
So, in 405 Mesrop Mashtots creates the Armenian letters.
Originally the Armenian alphabet consisted of 36 letters, but later in the middle ages 3 additional letters were added.
The only written and spoken form of the language from 5-19th centuries was Old Armenian language (in Armenian – Grabar). However, because of some phonological changes the Armenian language developed in two formal and literary versions: Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian.
Armenian Writing: Eastern Armenian vs Western Armenian
Eastern Armenian is now the official literary language in the Republic of Armenia. It is also called Araratian dialect, since long ago it was spoken mostly in the Araratian region of Armenia.
Western Armenian was spoken by Armenians living in Anatolia, or western Armenia (present-day Turkey). Today western Armenian is mostly spoken by the Armenians Diaspora.
The reason is the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Because of those pogroms, millions of Armenians had to flee their land and settle in the different corners of the world. This is exactly when the huge Armenian diaspora emerged.
Although Western Armenian is spoken more widely in diaspora, in Armenia only Eastern Armenian is taught at schools, as it is closer to the Old Armenian language. Even though today there are some discussions in government about opening schools, where western Armenian will be taught.
The reason is the huge number of Armenian immigrants coming and settling in Armenia, who escaped Syrian civil war. Syrian Armenians also speak Western Armenian.
The two versions of the language differ a great deal, and even Armenian native speakers meet difficulties in understanding and differentiating Eastern and Western Armenian. Though the vocabulary is to a great extent the same, there are lots of differences in pronunciation and grammar.
Since then, both Eastern and Western Armenian languages have been reflected in literature. During all the times, Armenia has been famous for its talented writers, who wrote both in Eastern and Western Armenian.
Armenian Writing: Historical Stages
As most languages, Armenian writing, language and literature underwent changes through so many years of its existence. Let’s discover all those historical stages.
Early Christian Armenian literature begins from 406, after Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet, primarily for the purpose of translating Biblical books into Armenian.
The main and the leading literary direction of this period is historiography, theology and writing of spiritual sharakans (spiritual songs).
The first gem of national literature is “The life of Mashtots” (Varq Mashtotsi, in Armenian Վարք Մաշտոցի) by Koryun. He was Mesriop M’s student. The writing was written in 440s. It is devoted to the descriptions of Mastots life and activity.
The 5th century is considered to be Golden Age for the Armenian history, when most of historical writings were presented. Among them, the most famous are “Armenian history” by Pavstos Buzand and Movses Khorenatsi.
“Armenian history” by Khorenatsi is the most inclusive and extensive historical writing, where the author tried for the first time to write a comprehensive history. It starts from legendary forefather Hayk, up to 428. Khorenatsi has also written down some exclusive and valuable parts of pagan Armenian oral literature.
During the medieval era of Armenian literature, ashkharhik (worldly – by world) and fictional works were becoming more and more popular. Before that, as we already mentioned, mostly spiritual and historical writing were popular.
So, one of the most ancient and important type of Armenian literature – fable reached the peak of its development in 12-13th centuries.
Father-founders of it were Mkhitar Gosh and Vardan Aigektsi. Moreover, fable-writing contributed greatly in Armenian literature and development of other types of fictional prose.
The medieval era of Armenian literature also stands out for the creation of Armenian epic poem of “David of Sasun” (Sasuntsi David). This is an oral tale about a hero, who fights against foreign conquerors, to save Armenian and reestablish its sovereignty.
The story was first written down by archbishop Karekin in 1873. Other versions of the epic were also written down and during the Soviet Era all of them were collated into a unified version.
Religious (Spiritual) literature
Armenian religious literature is indeed very extensive. In the 8th century some works of several Fathers appeared, written by the bishop of Syunik, Stephan.
Two centuries later “History of Armenia” by the Catholicos John V – the Historian, came forth. An important role in Armenian religious literature played Gregory of Narek (in Armenian-Grigor Narekatsi), the son of archbishop Khosrov.
He is the author of the “Book of prayers” also known as “Book of Lamentations”, which is recognized as a real gem of Christian literature.
The formation of modern Armenian literature coincided with 2 major historical events: end of the World War I and reestablishment of Armenia’s independence.
During this period (1918) western literature transmitted to Diaspora literature. The development of modern Armenian Literature was directly connected to the Armenian first and second Republics.
The most famous writers of this period are:
- Grigor Zohrap
- Daniel Varuzhan
- Yeghishe Charents
- Avetik Isahakyan
- Aksel Bakunts
- Vahan Totovents
- Hovhannes Shiraz
- Silva Kaputikyan
During every period of development, Armenian literature stood out with its talented and brilliant writers.
Armenian Writing: Who are the Most Famous Authors?
The Doctor of the Church
Armenia’s first great poet was and will always be Gregory of Narek (Grigor Narekatsi). He was an Armenian poet, monk, theologian and has been canonized by the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Grigor Narekatsi is famous for his “Book of Prayers” or “Book of Lamentations”. His purpose was to create a book, an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations”, which would serve as a guide to the spiritual world, regardless nationality and religion.
The book is a real gem, not only for Armenian religious literature, but also for the whole world. It has been translated into many languages and is believed to cure people, due to its selection of words that are supposed to be pleasing God.
There is also a scientific approach to this book’s abilities to cure. Many scientists think, that it helps and cures only when the reader reads out loud and reads with a huge belief, which means he is 100% positive about what he reads.
The selection of sounds produce positive physical energy, that in case of mixing with the reader’s positive physical energy, helps to cure.
The Patriotic Writer
One of the leading figures of 19th century’s Armenian literature was Hakob-Meliq Hakobyan. He is mostly known as Raffi. Raffi was born in 1835 in a wealthy farmer’s family, which made it possible for him to get quality and privileged education.
Realizing the poor and miserable life of the Armenian population, which lived in terror of turks, Raffi tried with his writings to make people, themselves, aware of the situation they lived in.
Raffi was a prolific and a patriotic writer, his works appeared in Mshak and Ardzagank newspapers, playing an important role in awakening Armenians from the misery, since the loss of independence in 14th century.
He is the author of;
- “The Fool”
- “Davit Bek”
- “The Memoir of Cross Stealer”
The Poet of all Armenians
One of the most famous authors in Armenian literature is Hovhannes Tumanyan. Tumanyan was 19th century writer, born in the village of Dsegh in Lori province. His poems and works have educated and brought up many generations.
Hovhannes Tumanyan is the national poet of Armenia, he is considered to be the poet of all Armenians. His works are simple, but at the same time very deep in their meaning. Tumanyan is the author of dozens of ballads, poems, fairy tales, novels.
The most famous among them are:
- “The Dog and the Cat”
- “The End of Evil”
- “A Drop of Honey”
- “The Unlucky Panos”
- “Nazar The Brave”
The Singer of Autumn
Nearly everyone who wants to read romantic and sorrowful poems, immediately thinks of Vahan Teryan – the most famous lyrist of the Armenian literature. Teryan was born in 1885 in Gandza village of Georgia.
Being very lyrical, writing mostly about autumn and love, saved Teryan the name of “Singer of Autumn”. The literary heritage, Teryan has left, is indeed enormous.
His most famous works include:
- “Dreams of the Dawn”
- “Night and Reminiscences”
- “Songs of Freedom”
- “Land of Nairi”
- “The return”
The Poet of the 20th Century
Another outstanding Armenian writer and poet is Yeghishe Charents. Charents represented the Armenian literature of 20th century (1897-1937) and is sometimes referred to, as the main poet of the 20th century.
He is the author of many poems:
- “Three Songs of the Sad and Pale Girl”
- “Blue-Eyed Homeland”
- “Country of Nairi”
- “Epical sunrise”
All of these writings were translated by such prominent writers as Valeri Brusov, Louis Aragon, Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak and many others.
However, the most famous among his poems is “Ես իմ անուշ Հայաստանի արեւահամ բարն եմ սիրում” (from Armenian – I love the sun sweet taste of Armenia), which is a real paragon of eternal love towards a homeland.
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